The Founding of the American Democratic System U.S. Constitution?

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Transcript The Founding of the American Democratic System U.S. Constitution?

The Founding of the American Democratic System

What led to the creation of the U.S. Constitution?

Founding and the U.S. Constitution • The revolution was inspired by concern for liberty – Understood as preservation of traditional rights against tyranny • These rights were threatened by British trade and tax policies • Concern also motivated by desire for popular sovereignty

First Continental Congress: (September 5-October 22, 1774) • Every colony but Georgia sent representatives • Met in secret because they did not want the British to know that the colonies were uniting • They made list of basic rights they wanted and a list of complaints to send to King George III • Signed petition demanding the Intolerable Acts be repealed and sent it to England with the demand they would be repealed – Agreed to meet again if Intolerable Acts not repealed

Second Continental Congress: May 5, 1775 (met throughout war) • Purposes: – Organize Army and Navy – Send diplomats to Europe for financial and military assistance for war – Appoint committee to draft Declaration of Independence • Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Ben Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston – Committee delegated job to Jefferson (revised by Adams, Franklin, and entire committee)

Articles of Confederation: The Government They Created • • • •

No executive branch No judicial branch Unicameral legislature Equal representation (one vote per state)

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Nine votes necessary for legislation Unanimity necessary for amendments or abolition

Weaknesses of Articles of Confederation 1) Congress did not have power to tax 2) Congress could not regulate commerce 3) States could issue their own currency 4) Executive not independent of Congress 5) No national judicial system 6) Needed unanimous decision to amend 7) All laws needed 9/13 states to approve

I. Constitutional Convention

• Failures of the Articles of Confederation inspire many citizens to call for constitutional convention • Explicit tension between proponents of greater democracy and a more republican system of government

II. Defining Republicanism

A. Objectives 1. Government based on popular consent 2. Powers of government are limited 3. Government insulated against judgments of the majority 4. Citizens should have right to have property protected

II. Defining Republicanism

• B. How to achieve these objectives – Elected representatives exercising independent judgment – Suffrage restricted to only white male property owners – Prevent concentration of government power in any single governing body

II. Defining Republicanism

• While Republicanism represents a step towards democracy, it is NOT democracy – retains many aristocratic or elitist features – envisions a political order in which a natural elite rules – limitations on the participation of people –

Federalist 62: state governments were allowing government "to fall into the hands of those whose ability or situation in life does not entitle them to it."

III. Members of Convention

• 73 delegates from 12 states (Rhode Island did not attend) • Delegates were largely from privileged, educated backgrounds – There are questions about how representative these individuals were (most citizens had neither financial privilege nor education)

IV. Consensus and Conflict

• A. Consensus – Almost all agreed that Articles were inept and needed to be replaced – Support for strengthened national government – Dangers of factions – Belief in republican form of government

IV. Conflict and Compromise

– Representation of states in legislature • Connecticut Compromise – Status of slavery • 3/5 Compromise • End of Slave Trade – Selection of the President • Electoral College

Virginia Plan (Madison)

• Designed to create a strong central government, controlled by the wealthiest and most heavily populated states • Popularly elected bicameral national legislature with power to veto state laws and appoint the executive and the judiciary • Seats in both houses based on population • Single executive

New Jersey Plan

• Modeled after Articles of Confederation (with slightly more powerful central gov’t) • Favored small states • States remain sovereign over central gov’t • Unicameral legislature – One representative from each state • Plural executive

Connecticut Compromise (Roger Sherman) • Compromise between large and small states • Called for bicameral legislature – Representation in lower house based on population (favors large states) • Direct popular election of representatives – Representation in upper house to be equal for each state (favors small states) • Senators elected by state legislatures


• This was a very divisive issue, even at the founding • This represents an inherent conflict in American politics – slavery is institutionalized in a society that just fought a war supported by the claim that "all men were created equal."

Slavery: Story of Political Power of South • 3/5 Compromise: – 3/5's of state's slave population would be counted in states population and taxation – ** contributes to the count of representatives in the House of Reps • b. Prohibited enactment against slave trade until 1808 (ending slave importation) • c. Required non-slave states to return runaways

John Roche’s Argument

• The Founding Fathers had significant political experience • They were masters at the art of compromise • They wanted to write a document that was acceptable to their constituents • They were also eager to finish their work quickly to go back to their families, businesses and political careers

Charles Beard:

An Economic Interpretation of Constitution

(1911) • Constitution was an economic document written by a self-interested elite • This elite wanted to protect their interests • People were not involved in selecting the delegates to the Constitutional Convention • The ratification process was also undemocratic since only one sixth of the adult males participated

Constitution as a Living Document • Jefferson – “The real friends of the Constitution in its federal form, if they wish it to be immortal, should be attentive, by amendments, to make it keep pace with the advance of the age in science and experience” • Two ways to change: – By amendment – By interpretation

Constitution as a Living Document • Change by amendment – The formal amendment process is difficult: to date only 27 amendments have been added – Proposing amendments: 2/3 of Congress or 2/3 of state legislatures calling for a convention – Ratifying amendments: 3/4 of state legislatures, or ratifying conventions in 3/4 of the states • Change by interpretation (Supreme Court)